The 16 Best Road Trips in the USA to Take in 2021 (Because Post-Lockdown, We're Outta Here)

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You’re itching to travel but maybe a full revenge vacation splurge isn’t your style, so you’re opting to skip pricey overseas airfare for something closer to home. How about a road trip? After all, our country is gorgeous and is practically made for zooming across with the top down. And whether you need a long weekend to de-stress or want a week to travel with the kids, there’s a stretch of road with your name on it. Here’s 16 of the best road trips to take in the USA now.

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1. Top Of The Rockies Scenic Byway, Colorado

This western road trip through and around the Rocky Mountains has three separate routes that converge in Leadville, Colorado (the highest incorporated town in the country at 10,152 feet above sea level). There’s no rule against traversing all three, especially since each is pretty short (82 miles total). First, take in the five enormous mountains surrounding Leadville, two of which are the tallest in the state. Next, head up through the Tennessee Pass and cross the Continental Divide to reach the majestic town of Minturn to admire the expansive fields of wildflowers. The route through Independence Pass toward Aspen has unbelievable views of the Rockies and the Twin Lakes. Driving along the Arkansas River through Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain is ideal for spotting ranches, old mines and—fingers crossed—some Colorado wildlife.

Where to Stay:

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2. Overseas Highway, Florida

You do not need a boat to enjoy the Florida Keys, and we can prove it. The Overseas Highway is one of the most unique roads in the country, as it basically island hops along Florida’s hottest vacay spots like Islamorada (home of the Florida Brewing Company) and Marathon (home of Long Key State Park). The Seven-Mile Bridge is a highlight nestled into the 113-mile trip, so make sure to cross it during the day for sprawling views of turquoise water and boaters galore. Other fun pit stops: Swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, snorkel with sea critters at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and pose for a selfie at Southernmost Point Buoy, the farthest south you can get in the continental U.S.

Where to Stay:

  • A historic Key West Apartment (2 guests): $344/night
  • A Seaside Spa in Islamorada (2 guests): $419/night
  • A Modern Resort in Miami (2 guests): $418/night
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3. Columbia River Highway, Oregon

This stretch of highway was the first of its kind to be officially declared a National Historic Landmark, and it’s easy to see why. Set out from Troutdale, Oregon, and immediately you’ll see the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge. Get ready for a roller-coaster descent as you roll into Crown Point; the 600-foot drop toward the Columbia River is designed specifically for road trippers as it curves and winds through lush green forests. There are at least six notable waterfalls you’ll pass along the way; step out at Multnomah Falls for a pic of its stunning bridge. Once you hit the town of Mosier, consider trekking through a tunnel of lava rock on the Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead. The road officially ends after roughly 70 miles at The Dalles, conveniently close to the Sunshine Mill Winery. Treat yourself to a glass of the wildly popular Nirvana, a white blend with touches of honey and melon.

Where to Stay:

  • A Clifftop Hotel in Hood River (2 Guests): $199/night
  • A Sleek Converted Schoolhouse in Bingen (2 Guests): $85/night
  • A Modern Riverbank Residence (6 Guests): $377/night
best road trip in usa hana coast highway hawaii

4. Hana Coast Highway, Hawaii

While Hawaii’s island of Maui is a hot destination for tropical romance, the Hana Coast Highway is not for the faint of heart. The road is affectionately called the “Divorce Highway” in honor of its precarious turns and proximity to the edges of tall cliffs. That said, the frequent waterfalls, black sand beaches and eucalyptus trees along the country’s lengthiest rainforest highway make the trip totally worth the adrenaline rush. Though it’s only 52 miles, the 25-miles-per-hour speed limit (with blind spots and one-lane bridges galore; this is a very good thing) makes it a two- to three-hour trip. But we have a feeling you’ll happily take your time, as the views from Kahului to Hana are beyond breathtaking.

Where to Stay:

  • World-Famous Secluded Spa Resort: $559/night
  • Charming Inn on Hana Highway: $370/night
  • Pet-Friendly Waterside motel: $209/night
best road trip in the usa chaco culture national historic park

5. Trail Of The Ancients Scenic Byway, New Mexico

If you’re in the mood for dry heat and history up close, the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway is calling. West of Albuquerque is Chaco Canyon, an important ceremonial site for the Pueblo peoples between 850 and 1250 A.D. After taking in the incredible expanse of the canyon, drive south through the towns of Crownpoint and Grants toward the El Morro National Monument. Ogle the 2,000 or so signatures weary travelers have carved into the sandstone over centuries. Continue east through the Zuni Reservation to Zuni Pueblo, an arts community still practicing ancestral traditions and ways of life. Cap off this winding 360-mile desert tour in Farmington, where you can see Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins, both of which date back to the 1050s.

Where to Stay:

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6. The Black Hills And Badlands, South Dakota

Together, the Black Hills and Badlands National Park in South Dakota offer 5 million acres of grassland, forest and rock formations. Might we recommend not hitting it all in one day? Instead, start out on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway near the town of Interior. Check out the millions-year-old (literally) jagged geographic deposits before heading north to Spearfish Canyon, home of sky-high pink limestone and gorgeous waterfalls. Meander down through Black Hills National Forest to check out Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and (drumroll, please) Mount Rushmore. Set aside a few days for the entire 232-mile journey because you’ll probably find yourself either driving slowly to take it all in or stopping the car every few miles to hike or swim.

Where to Stay:

  • A-Frame Chalet in Blackhawk (3 guests): $165/night
  • Casino in Deadwood (2 guests): $119/night
  • Hotel at Mount Rushmore: $114/night
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7. North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota

For a truly otherworldly experience, drive along the coast of the biggest freshwater lake in the world: Lake Superior. The northern Minnesota gem means ample opportunity to really get away from civilization. (Heading off the beaten path into the Boundary Waters just north of the coastline leaves you with no cell service, almost complete solitude and a chance to catch the northern lights!) Start your drive in Duluth and head north, scoping out the many lighthouses dotting the rocky coastline on your right and the distant Sawtooth Mountains on your left. Everywhere else is covered in pine and birch trees—and crawling with wildlife. Beaches pop up along the 142-mile ride, although Lake Superior is notoriously chilly, reaching 65 degrees Fahrenheit max during the hottest months of the year. But, in the height of summer, this might be exactly the cool-down you need.

Where to Stay:

  • Floor-to-Ceiling Views in Downtown Minneapolis (2 guests): $212/night
  • Waterside Duluth Hotel (2 guests): $178/night
  • Lakeside Cottage With Loft: (3 guests): $140
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8. Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, Maine

For the ultimate, rugged New England road trip, you must drive the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway. On the western side of the state, near New Hampshire, the lake is flanked by Rangeley Lake State Park and a series of rolling hills that are dotted with trees, flowers and wildlife. Start at Smalls Falls and let the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline be your guide on this 36-mile tour. The route is straightforward but provides sights of everything from lakes and rivers to valleys and farmland. Swift River and Mooselookmeguntic Lake (who named this lake?) offer outstanding photo ops. Summer is always a good time to visit when it comes to temps, but come autumn, the bright foliage pops along this route (and might warrant a second trip).

Where to Stay:

  • Chalet on Sunday River (9 guests): $480/night
  • Lakeside Fishing Cabin (4 guests): $291/night
  • A Riverside Luxe Estate Room (2 guests): $739/night
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9. Gold Coast, Michigan

Follow the coast of Lake Michigan for 220 miles on US-131 S past windswept dunes, friendly bed-and-breakfasts and lovely cherry blossoms in full bloom. Spend a day or two in Traverse City, where you can explore any of the 20-plus wineries along the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas, and try the beloved restaurant The Cooks House. As you drive south, you’ll pass the Dutch-influenced town of Holland; Saugatuck, which is home to an eccentric art community; and South Haven, known for its hiking trails and perch fishing on the lake. The final stop, St. Joseph, is a quintessential beach town complete with cobblestone streets and old-fashioned lighthouses.

Where to Stay:

  • Rustic Lakeside Cottage (4 guests): $195/night
  • Kid-Friendly Resort in Traverse City (6 guests): $130/night
  • Golfing-Adjacent Beach Resort (2 guests): $119/night
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10. Hill Country, Texas

his 200-mile loop that begins and ends in Austin traverses the small towns and rolling hills at the heart of the Lone Star State. Start west on Highway 290, and keep an eye out for fields bursting with wild bluebonnets. Take a dip in the Hamilton Pool Preserve natural swimming hole, located just outside Austin; feast on brisket at Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood; enjoy live music and beer at Pecan Street Brewing in Johnson City; and treat yourself to stellar Merlots and Malbecs at Becker Vineyards in Fredericksburg.

Where to Stay:

  • Hill Country Luxe Spa (2 Guests): $665/night
  • Countryside Contemporary Resort (2 Guests): $230/night
  • Industrial Cook Austin Apartment (3 guests): $300/night
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11. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon And Washington

This canyon is filled with lush greenery and waterfalls that stretch for 80 miles between Oregon and Washington. After starting in Portland (and don’t leave without a maple bacon Voodoo Doughnut), take a 30-minute trip on I-84 E to Multnomah Falls, the tallest of the 26 waterfalls along the gorge and accessible via a four-mile loop called Horsetail Falls Trailhead. Continue on I-84 E and spend the night in Hood River, a cool and sporty town with a serious coffee culture. For the final leg, take WA-14 E just over the state boarder to Lyle, Washington. There, you can hit up the Domaine Pouillon winery to try the region’s Rhone-style reds.

Where to Stay:

  • Converted Department Store Hotel in Portland (2 guests): $276/night
  • Riverside Contemporary Residence (6 guests): $495/night
  • Charming Home Near Multnomah Falls (7 guests): $139/night
best road trip in usa smoky mountain
Unsplash/Varun Yadav

12. Great Smoky Mountains Loop

Start in Atlanta and make sure to include time to walk among the buildings at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. Drive two hours to Chattanooga, Tennessee to take the super-steep (72.7 degrees upward!) Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain, where there are varied attractions that range from a military park to an elaborate garden and the 7 States Panoramic View spot (on a clear day you can spot Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama and North and South Carolina). Drive west to Lynchburg to the country’s oldest distillery, and home of Jack Daniels. Then, take in Chatanooga and the Tennessee River, before hitting Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After hiking a bit of the Appalachian Trail, drive the twisted “Tail of the Dragon” road of banked curves before heading back the way you came.

Where to Stay:

  • A Private Home in Atlanta (4 guests): $300/night
  • A Hotel with a Pool near Lynchburg (2 guests): $189/night
  • An Eco-Conscious Resort Just Outside the Park (2 guests): $169
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13. Gulf Coast Florida

Start in Naples, Florida, the formerly sleepy edge of the Everglades that’s become a place for the well-heeled to keep second homes. Choose from activities like bird watching or browsing the Arts District. Head on to Sanibel Island, known for its unspoiled beaches and unapparelled beachcombing. Next comes Sarasota, where the Ringling Museum is housed in a Venetian palazzo built by a circus magnate right on the bay. Browse the charming cluster of upscale shops at St. Armands Circle before heading to Tampa, a bustling city where you can have family fun at Busch Gardens as well as learn the history of a thriving Latinx immigrant community in Ybor City.

Where to Stay:

  • Tampa high-rise with rooftop pool (2 guests): $256/night
  • A Modern Home with Screened Pool (6 guests): $332/night
  • Island Inn, Sanibel (2 guests): $169/night
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Chase Rief/Unsplash

14. Southern California Inland

It’s not just Malibu beaches and movie stars when you’re thinking leisure time in Southern California. Entertainment industry types escape the heat by heading inland (and upward) to Lake Arrowhead, where the “Alps of Southern California” gives you a great day of boating at over 5,000 feet elevation. Stay overnight, then drive a couple of hours farther west on the 10 to Joshua Tree to stop at the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, an open-air assemblage of sculptures put together by an esteemed Black artist. End your tour with a desert hike through Joshua Tree National Park to see the distinctive succulent trees that Mormon immigrants named because they thought the tree's limbs looked like the Biblical character Joshua's arms stretched upward in prayer.

Where to Stay:

  • A Desert House With Tin Tub Swimming (2 guests): $135/night
  • The Luxe Desert Palm Springs Resort (2 guests): $375/night
  • Palm Springs Dome Getaway (6 guests): $262/night
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Stephen Leonardi/Unsplash

15. Route 12, Utah

Red Rock country is the kind of drive that’s going to elicit coos of jealousy from all your social media followers, since the steep sandstone cliffs and sage bluffs are one picture perfect postcard after another. The 124-mile road leading from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon trails along State Route 12, and it culminates in The Hogback, a narrow ridgeline highway with steep drop-offs on either side that’s been bringing travelers safely through the desert since the Civilian Conservation Corps. Watching the sun set over the terraces of the Grand Staircase alone is worth the trip.

Where to Stay:

Rustic Luxury in Escalante (2 guests): $145/night

• Cozy Cabin Near Bryce Canyon (4 guests): $160/night

Sleek hotel With Pool Near Capitol Reef (2 guests): $160/night

best road trip in usa cape cod Thomas Kelly/Unsplash

16. Cape Cod

Whale-watching, clam-noshing and all kinds of picturesque beach walks are in order when you take the 118-mile journey down the cape using Route 6. Wind your way through little towns like Chatham and Truro on your way to land’s end at Provincetown, where you’ll be rewarded with tons of entertainment options from drag shows to theatre.

Where to Stay:

Historic District Inn in Sandwich (2 guests): $99/night

Beachfront Chatham Resort With Deck (2 guests): $171/night

Fireplace Bedroom in Provincetown Inn (2 Guests): $390/night

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